Monday, February 1, 2016

Build a Company Customers Love: 44 Essential Reads on Loyalty, Churn, and Customer Retention

Earning customer loyalty is an uphill battle — but it is always worth the effort.

You've seen the data: the Harvard Business School report that showcased how, on average, increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.

Much to your disappointment, you find traditional business publications like Forbes seem content to churn out articles like "5 Theoretical Tips On Loyalty that I Made Up On My Drive to Work."

You want deep-dive articles. You've heard the amazing feats from places like Disney World, which have a 70+% return rate for customers. How can you get people to love your business like that?

There are no easy answers, but hopefully this round-up will put you another small step forward. It's a collection of some of my favorite reads on loyalty, churn, and retention, with a bias towards online businesses (particularly SaaS and ecommerce).


Must-Read Articles, Research, and Resources

1. The Art of Customer Loyalty — I've written about improving service, loyalty, and retention for about 2 years now. This resource is a beautifully designed re-cap on some of the most important advice and research we've gone over on the Help Scout blog.

2. The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty — From our friends at BigDoor, let me to assure you that Joanna Lord and Ashley Tate write some of the most insightful pieces on loyalty out there. You'll walk away with a lot of notes.

3. The Buffer "Happiness" Reports — This is a bit of a different take on loyalty, which is why I'm featuring it near the top. The Buffer team, known for their transparency, publishes a stellar monthly report on what they've been up to behind the scenes to create and keep a massive customer base happy.

4. Defining Your Churn Rate (No, Really) — For SaaS, perhaps nothing is more important than constantly tracking (and improving) your churn rate. Shopify breaks down how to really measure your churn that goes beyond [number of churns over period] / [number of customers at beginning of period].

5. Churn, Retention, and Rengaging Customers — Des Traynor always offers very insightful thoughts on product design and customer retention. In this article, you'll see why "activity churn" is what you should measure, and how you can reengage customers who have stopped using your product.

6. Why Churn is Critical to Success in SaaS — David Skok's ForEntrepreneurs blog is held in high regard, and this article will show you why. It's an essential read on why churn is the make-or-break metric for lasting SaaS businesses

7. Saas Churn and Retention Resource Guide — I consider this a great starting point, perhaps a "best of" for Lincoln Murphy's wonderful blog Sixteen Ventures. Each article is concise, thoughtful, and explores the angles that matter when it comes to getting customers to stick.

8. Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage: Not Losing Customers — From our friend Chris Hexton, this is a long but very well thought out take on identifying the metrics that matter for your business, and advice for stepping back from acquisition to focus on extracting more value from the customers who already pay you.

9. Your Customer Success Team: Hire Early, and No Squishy Goals — "Customer Success has a much longer, and ultimately deeper, relationship with the customer than sales or anyone else in your company." From Jason Lemkin's exceptional blog, you'll get the low down on hiring and implementing a stellar customer success team.

10. Manage Customer Success to Reduce Churn — It's your job to ensure that customers succeed with your product. Customer success is thus one of the most important "non-glamorous" jobs at your company, and this article offers one of the better overviews of how a smart customer success strategy increases overall happiness.

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(Source: ForEntrepreneurs)

11. 6 Ideas to Reduce Churn (That We've Found to Work) — Previously Michelle Sun helped with growth at Buffer, and in this article she examines the six techniques Buffer has employed to keep users coming back. Well worth the read.

12. 22 Ways to Reduce Churn with Growth Hacking — Despite by beef with the phrase "growth hacking," this is a smart look (with a presentation) on actionable ways SaaS companies tame an out of control churn rate.

13. 15 Customer Retention Strategies that Work — My penchant and background in academic research is apparent here. I think you'll enjoy these 15 studies on human behavior that should offer up some inspiration on tactics you can try to surprise and "wow" current customers.

14. Customer Service Isn't a Department — Companies who say they "love" customers but place support as a low priority are just posturing. This piece by Jack Altman explains why service is intrinsically tied to all aspects of your company.

15. User Onboarding Teardowns — Samuel Hulick definitely fulfilled a huge need by providing what is (to my knowledge) the best step-by-step teardowns on top companies' techniques for onboarding new users. If you like what you see, also be sure to check out the full book.

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16. The Best Damn Onboarding Flow I've Ever Seen — I've stated before how Brennan Dunn is someone who truly knows how to implement those little extras that ‘wow' new users, but this critique offes up a far more detailed showcase of just what he does right with his startup Planscope.

17. My Evil Method to Improve Customer Retention — Don't worry, it's not so evil! Lincoln Murphy explains in this article what companies can do when customers are on their way out to improve their retention, without frustrating customers who already have their foot out the door.

18. A Guide to Measuring and Improving SaaS Metrics — If you read any ForEntrepreneurs article, make it this one. The most essential overview to the metrics that matter, with a distinct focus on (you guessed it) retention and churn.

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19. 10 Tactics for Increasing Customer Lifetime Value — Your CLV is a prediction of the net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer. Mike Bal of Single Grain examines the how and why of stepping away from acquisition to focus on increasing this highly important metric.

20. How to Measure and Increase Customer Loyalty — A simple title, but a wonderfully insightful article by Joanna Lord (formerly of Moz) on creating a "loyalty measurement framework" that can help you track results.

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21. Retention, Cohorts, and Visualizations — A very smart look at measuring retention through the use of cycle plots. This is important as it's one of the best techniques to create a clean an understandable visualization of the data you have.

22. A Brief Guide to a Writing Better Support Emails — 37 Signals (now Basecamp) support superstar Chase Clemons knows a thing or two about customer support. Since support has such a meaninful impact on loyalty, and since much of your communication with customers will be through email, you should brush up on your skills in writing emails customers love.

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23. The Value of a "Frugal Wow" — The concept of a "frugal wow" is one that we love, because it places the emphasis back on the action rather than the expenditure. Bootstrapped businesses take note: goodwill can be built without deep pockets.

24. How to Measure Customer Satisfaction — Dr. Scott Smith explains in this Qualmetrics article how companies can utilize four different measurements (and example questions) to get a sense of customer's overall satisfaction.

25. Everyone in SaaS Needs to Do Customer Support — Customer happiness is not a simple process that can be "outsourced" or handed over to one department. Creating happy customers starts with understanding them, which is why getting in the trenches via Whole Company Support is key in helping every department learn how to interact with customers.

26. Designing First Run Experiences to Delight Users — Patrick McKenzie (also known at patio11) presents a beautiful case for tackling this startling fact: "40-60% of users who sign up for a free trial of your software or SaaS application will use it once and never come back."

27. Talking to Customers is Killing Your Company — Provocative title, but a very important reminder that when you're talking to customers, you probably aren't listening close enough: "The purpose of customer interviews is to extract insights from the minds of your customers. Talking can’t achieve this; only listening can."

28. 26 Resources to Master Customer Development — If you find this article valuable from a retention perspective, Zach Bulgyo's wonderful roundup is the equivalent for customer development. You won't need to read anything else to get started with customer development.

29. Creating Customer Loyalty Programs that Stick — Loyalty programs aren't for everyone, but if they are a fit for your industry, you need to see this research from Professors Dreze and Nunes on the "endowed progress effect."

30. How One SaaS Startup Reduced Churn 71% Using “Red Flag” Metrics — Faced with a worrisome 4.5% churn rate, this company decided to take a closer look at the metrics that mattered, and adjusted their messaging for a big win.

31. The Complete Guide to Using Social Media for Customer Service — From Buffer's wonderful Courtney Seiter, this is the best place to start putting together a strategy for keeping tabs and saying thanks to all of your customers across multiple social networks.

32. When Customer Delight is Complete Bullsh*t — "While manufactured delight can lead to great press, it's not much of a customer generation or retention strategy in practice." Michael Redbord makes the necessary argument that the exceptional cases of service are just that: out of the ordinary. Long term retention is built around the fundamentals: speed, accuracy, and completeness.

33. Don't Lie, You Don't Care — A brave piece on why the current obsession with "growth hawking" may be ruining your company's customer experience. The bump in user signups may be temporary with an aggressive "spam your users" strategy, but the customers you lose (and the stain on your brand) will last forever.

34. Technically Correct, the Worst Kind of Correct — "Being merely correct doesn’t make for happy (or even satisfied) customers on its own." A short but very important article on delighting users: answering their question accurately is just the price of entry. Great support identifies the proper tone that your customers expect, and makes use of it (whether it be bubble or more serious).

35. The Data that Drives Customer Support for Over 600,000 Product Use Cases — This list wouldn't be complete without at least one case study of a company taking a look at some real support metrics. Zapier delivers in spades here, if you're a numbers person be prepared to take some notes (charts, charts everywhere!)

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36. Teaching the Support Team How to Fish — Your support team needs to play a much more important role than simply being the position that says "I'm sorry." This article from Mig Reyes of 37 Signals / Basecamp explains the art of teaching the support team so that they can "feed themselves."

37. How We Grew Our Customer Exit Survey Responses by 785% — Alex Turnbull explains why hearing cancellation reasons is necessary in improving your product, even if they hurt your ego. After all, progress can't be made in a positive feedback echo-chamber.

38. The Best Ways to Get Feedback from Customers — Marketing analyst Lars Lofgren explains how the KISSmetrics teams is able to get such valuable feedback from their customers, and how you can do the same.

39. How to Survey Your Customers — Getting to know your customers means talking to them, and a well constructed survey allows you to do that at scale. This Inc. column is a great place to get started.

40. Why Your Customer Experience Strategy May Fail — "Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it is not innovation." Part of a great customer experience is seeing things you've never seen before. Copying and pasting your experience strategy will leave you sweatin' and stealin' a year and a half behind, as Rudyard Kipling would say.

41. A Followup Email that Actually Works — This is a quick, concise article that I believe highlights the concept of G.L.U.E, or giving little unexpected extras. The best part: it's written by a customer, who was totally won over by this company's exceptional intro-email.

42. Great Support Means Getting Out of Your Customers Way — Did you know that 70% of consumers expect a company website to include a self-service application? The numbers are equally as agressive for mobile users. People want tools that can help them help themselves, just remember that great self-service requires great design.

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43. Teaching Customers with Video — This article from Wistia's Alyce Currier is my favorite one to recommend for helping companies get started with "help" video content. It's such an important form of self-service, and you need to be able to do it right.

44. How Help Content Improves the User Experience — The first line says it all: "Though often under-appreciated, well written help documentation can improve the user experience and get people back on track when they stumble in complicated workflows." It's the very reason we created Help Scout Docs.

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